How to create an ethical will

An ethical will – also referred to as a legacy letter – can be a valuable complement to your legal will.

  • Wednesday, November 6, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Q: Can you write a column on ethical wills and how to make one? The attorney that made up my will recently suggested I write one as a tool to explain the intentions of my will, as well as express my thoughts and feelings, but I don’t know where to start.

A: An ethical will — also referred to as a legacy letter — can be a valuable complement to your legal will, as well as a wonderful gift to your family or other loved ones. Here’s what you should know along with some tips to help you make one.

Unlike a last will and testament, which tells your loved ones (and the legal world) what you want them to have, an ethical will (which is not a legal document) tells them what you want them to know.

With an ethical will, you can share with your loved ones your feelings, wishes, regrets, gratitude and advice, as well as explain the elements in your legal will, give information about the money and possessions you’re passing on, and anything else you want to communicate.

Usually no more than a few pages, the process of writing an ethical will can actually be quite satisfying. But be careful that you don’t contradict any aspects of your legal will or estate plan.

And, if you’re having trouble with the writing, there are resources available to help you, or you can express yourself through an audio or video recording.

To craft an ethical will, start by jotting down some notes about what’s really important to you and what you want your loved ones to know. Take your time and remember that you’re not trying to write for the Pulitzer Prize. This letter is a gift of yourself written for those you love.

After you’ve gathered your thoughts you can start drafting your letter. And for safekeeping, keep your ethical will with your other legal documents in a secure location but be sure your executor has access to it. A safe-deposit box or fireproof filing cabinet or safe in your home is a good choice.

There are numerous resources available like Celebrations of Life (CelebrationsofLife.net), which offers how-to information and examples of ethical wills, along with a “Ethical Wills: Putting Your Values on Paper” book, and the Ethical Wills/Legacy Letters workbook that you can purchase for $16 and $10 respectively.

Another good resource is Personal Legacy Advisors (PersonalLegacyAdvisors.com), a company that offers ethical will writing classes and workshops, along with personalized services like coaching, editing, writing and/or audio or video recording your ethical will. Prices will depend on the services you choose. They also sell a do-it-yourself guidebook “The Wealth of Your Life: A Step-by-Step Guide for Creating Your Ethical Will,” by Susan Turnbull for $24.

You need to know that many people choose to share their ethical will with their family and friends while they’re still living so they can enjoy their reactions, while others think it should be read after their death. It’s up to you.

Talk to us

More in Life

Red osier dogwood  (Cornus sericea (stolonifera)) berries, leaves and twigs.
Red twig dogwoods — there’s variety of shrub for all seasons

Here are four new varieties of twig dogwoods on the market that provide fall and winter interest.

Josey Wise puts out one of the hundreds of glass pumpkins on a display at the Schack Art Center for the upcoming Schack-toberfest on Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2021 in Everett, Washington. The festival runs from Sept, 23 to Nov. 6. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Glowing gourds light up Schack-toberfest in Everett this fall

You can see more than 1,000 of the glass pumpkins, and even make your own. Plus, check out The Artists’ Garage Sale on Sept. 25.

Plant "Mount Vernon" as a low informal bed border or small hedge, or as a groundcover under trees and large shrubs.(Rick Peterson)
Great Plant Pick: Prunus laurocerasus ‘Mount Vernon,’ dwarf English laurel

Plant “Mount Vernon” as a low informal bed border or small hedge, or as a groundcover under trees and large shrubs.

This rare Louisiana Creole Gros Rouge punkah from the late 18th-early 19th century made of Southern Yellow Pine with mortise-and-tenon construction, 40 1/2 by 35 inches, was estimated to sell for $10,000 to $15,000 at Neal Auctions, but it didn't sell. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
Strange antique made from Southern yellow pine is a punkah

It was the “air conditioner” of the early 19th century. A man called a “punkah wallah” pulled a cord to make it swing back and forth like a fan.

Nick Pate examines a cider apple tree at Raising Cane Ranch in Snohomish in 2019. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)
Nick Pate examines a cider apple tree at Raising Cane Ranch in Snohomish on June 5, 2019. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Home and garden events and resources around Snohomish County

Home and garden events and resources around Snohomish County

David Pallett, 77, works out with personal trainer Jim Hart on Aug. 30 at Optimal Sport Gym in Philadelphia. (Jose F. Moreno / The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Experts: Don’t put off exercising until retirement years

It’s never too late to start moving, but science is finding you may not catch up to lifelong exercisers.

If your diarrhea doesn’t resolved itself within a month, then it has turned into persistent or even chronic diarrhea. (Getty Images)
Does persisent diarrhea keep you running to the toilet?

Then it’s time to ask your doctor to test for infections, allergies and autoimmune diseases to find the root cause.

Welcome fall with Quil Ceda Creek Casino’s Asian chicken salad with a vegetable medley. (Quil Ceda Creek Casino)
Taste of Tulalip: Asian chicken salad with vegetable medley

Set the stage for fall with a Quil Ceda Creek Casino favorite featuring a kaleidoscope of colorful ingredients.

The Dmitri Matheny Group, led by horn player Dmitri Matheny, is scheduled to perform Oct. 9 at Tim Noah Thumbnail Theater in Snohomish. (Steve Korn)
All about music: Schedule of concerts around Snohomish County

The listings include Sir Mix-a-Lot, ZZ Top and Bands, Brews and Bowling at Evergreen Lanes in Everett.

Most Read